Are your flare-ups disrupting your day-to-day? Your physician can help you find solutions on how to manage inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
If you have inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all. That’s why it’s important to have care providers who take a whole-body approach on how to manage inflammatory bowel disease symptoms and maintain your quality of life.
“The gut is each person’s unique make-up, and it’s not going to be the same for each person,” said Rebecca Kazanofski, MSN, RN, CNOR, of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Treatment plans for IBD often take a multi-faceted approach, tackling both the physical and mental impact of IBD, and they may change over time. “It’s a lifelong disease, and a holistic therapy plan and approach is the best,” Kazanofski explained. “You have to follow a treatment plan to see the most success with the quality of life and your ability to cope — because all those things affect your gut and your body’s ability to heal.”
We asked Kazanofski what a multi-pronged treatment approach for IBD symptoms might incorporate.
Medications like biologics help reduce inflammation. Kazanofski said biologics, taken at regular intervals, are often injected or infused. An injectable might be taken at home, whereas an infusion is usually administered in an infusion center. Sometimes biologics are paired with immunosuppressants to help control disease processes. Antibiotics are prescribed if the inflammation has caused an infection. Steroids are another option for reducing inflammation.
Symptom and side-effect control are an important part of a treatment plan, as well. Anti-nausea medications or solutions for diarrhea or constipation may also be prescribed.
“Our therapy is not just drug-based,” Kazanofski said of Vanderbilt’s IBD Clinic. “You also see a dietician because there are certain foods that may trigger more of an inflammatory response than others.” Dietary solutions also will be tailored to your individual needs. “One of our providers has group meetings weekly, and they’re working on an elimination diet,” Kazanofski said. An elimination diet will temporarily exclude certain foods that you suspect might cause inflammation, symptoms or flares. Then you’ll slowly add the foods back in, one at a time, to see if they’re a trigger.
Mental health and support systems
Because IBD can have a significant impact on your life, a mental health component to treatment can be beneficial. At Vanderbilt’s IBD Clinic, patients see both a psychiatrist and a social worker as part of their treatment plan as another way of evaluating how to manage inflammatory bowel disease. A psychiatrist can help patients navigate frustrations with IBD and having to manage a chronic illness. Plus, issues of fear and stress may arise. “Stress can be something that will induce a flare-up,” Kazanofski explained. “And sometimes IBD causes isolation because they’re afraid to go out or go on holidays with their friends or family because they have to be near a bathroom.”
Yet, a support system is crucial. And that’s where the social worker comes in. “They can help patients tap into resources out in their community to cope with their illness,” Kazanofski said. Resources may include support groups or meditation and mindfulness classes, to name a few.
“Usually once we establish care with a patient,” Kazanofski said, “every four to six months we make sure they’re doing well.” Follow-up visits help give you and your care team a chance to check in and see if medications are working, if your bathroom trip frequency has changed or if you need additional treatment protocols or resources. Of course, patients who are having flare-ups can make an appointment to get symptoms under control sooner.